If your loved one was dying a long, painful death, would you wish there was some other way out? Soon there might be.
professor Sean Davison
His mother had been on a water only diet for 33 days when Western Cape university professor Sean Davison slowly began crushing a number of morphine tablets into a glass of water. She wanted to die with dignity, not in pain. Her body was ravaged by the cancer in her lungs, liver and brain, but now more than a month after she stopped eating, Davison’s mom Pat was still struggling. Davison could see his mom was headed for the undignified and painful end that she had been so desperately trying to avoid.
There are numerous accounts of what happened next, but essentially Davison mixed a lethal concoction of morphine and gave it to his mother at her request. After he returned home to Cape Town, he wrote a full account of the final weeks with his mother in a book called Before We Say Goodbye, which caused a stir in both countries and saw a warrant of arrest being issued for him in New Zealand. He returned to the tiny island country, stood trial and was sentenced to five months home detention after pleading guilty to the lesser charge of ‘Counselling and procuring suicide’.
In the interim Davison founded an organisation called DignitySA which seeks to legalise assisted dying of the terminally ill under precisely defined circumstances. DignitySA proposes a legal procedure in which those wanting to be euthanised will apply to an independent panel that would look at each case individually.
“It will be a kind, compassionate process with a panel that includes doctors, legal advisers and counsellors,” Davison explained.Opponents of assisted dying suggest that should a system be introduced in which death can be legalised, then that system would be open to abuse. The other common reason given for not legalising euthansia would be the appeal to the ‘sanctity of life’, in which opponents claim that life itself is too precious to be ended, under any circumstances.
Davison counters that he does not believe euthanasia to be a religious issue. “This is a human rights issue because it is about human suffering. I would say that there is nothing in the gospels which says anything about euthanasia and that it is a matter between people’s private conscious, and their gods. What is important is the intention is about kindness,” he says.Importantly, Davison adds that there is a precedent in South African law, which makes legalised assisted dying something he expects to see enacted into South African law in the near future.
“The government legalised abortion with little objection. This issue of assisted dying is morally easier than abortion because the person has lived a full life and is now suffering at the very end. It is only humane that they should be allowed to choose a dignified death,” he says.
To some the idea of assisted suicide is an idea very far removed from their day to day lives, a macabre ideal that perhaps we don’t want to think about, but to Davison and the other people at DignitySA, it is an essential discussion and one he hopes to win, so no one else needs to watch a loved one die a painful and undignified death.
morphine, Sean Davison, dying, death, Western Cape